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Accepted Paper:

A Diet for the Microbial-Self: Personalized Nutrition Between ‘Homo-Microbis’ and ‘Homo-Algorithmicus’  
Rafi Grosglik (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) Dan M. Kotliar (University of Haifa)

Paper short abstract:

The study of human microbiota has suggested seeing humans as “homo-microbis”– complex biomolecular networks composed of a human host and microbes. Focusing on the microbiome-based personalized nutrition plan, we argue that the homo-microbis is necessarily also a homo-algorithmicus.

Paper long abstract:

In the last two decades, the study of human microbiota – the vast microbial communities in and around the human body – has highlighted human and microbial interdependency and co-evolution, thus offering a radical epistemic and ontological shift from the individualistic, modernistic view of the human self. Research has accordingly suggested seeing humans as “homo-microbis”– complex biomolecular networks composed of a human host and its associated microbes. But what happens to this epistemic shift when it gets commodified and implemented in technological devices such as apps for dietary recommendations? Based on an ethnographic account of a prominent scientific research project that offers microbiome-based personalized nutrition, and of the successful start-up that emerged from it, this paper examines the popularization and commodification of the microbiome, and the ensuing constitution of the human subject. We show that human-microbe relations are acknowledged in the discourse of personalized nutrition, but the microbiome is paradoxically seen as a data-driven, individuating marker that does not question humans’ individuality, but rather, highlights it. We further argue that this view necessarily depends on opaque machine learning algorithms that produce a quantified self – a supra-human, neoliberal agent who relies on meticulous self-tracking, including food-tracking. We accordingly show that the homo-microbis is also a homo-algorithmicus – a being that can only access its own nonhuman sub-parts by blindly following opaque algorithmic recommendations on an app. Thus, we argue that microbiome-based personalized nutrition is highly dependent on cultural, economic, and technological determinants, and is accordingly shaped by them.

Panel P05b
Plastic Data – bioinformation, coloniality and the promise of data futures
  Session 1 Thursday 9 June, 2022, -